Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Chicago Marathon Race Recap


Goal 1:  PR (Sub 2:40:30)
Goal 2:  Sub 2:40
Goal 3:  Top 10 American Female
Goal 4:  Top Bank of America Employee Finisher


2:38:47 via 1:18:03 / 1:18:42
6th American Female, 14th Overall Female
1st Bank of America Employee Finisher (Male or Female)



What a year!  What a day for a race!  I'm about to PR!  After what I've been through this year? Caitlin, you're amazingly tough.    

Nothing too incredibly deep in the paragraph above, but you'll have to forgive marathon brain at mile 26, coming in to the home stretch to finish a marathon.  As I outlined in my blog in October, a lot of things changed in my life earlier this year, including my marital status and permanent place of residence.  Undoubtedly, as I ran down that final straightaway on Columbus Avenue in Chicago, I was really proud of myself more so for recovering emotionally from a setback than I was for running a personal best.  Let's recap the specifics of the race.

I arrived in Chicago on Thursday night, with an incredible excitement to see my good friends Laurie, Lauren and Rachel and, of course, to finally put my training to the test!  I'll skip out on the details of all the days leading up to the race, but want to ensure that I mention how phenomenal the race organization committee is at Chicago.  The entire team is professional, supportive and detail-oriented so that they do indeed successfully host one of the largest marathons in the world.  The elite coordinator, Tracey, did a fabulous job ensuring that our entire group was taken care of.  I felt so proud to be a Bank of America employee - after all, we have an entire team dedicated to organizing this race. 

After a pre-race dinner with my mom and dad, my brother Ben and my boyfriend Peter, I said good night and ensured everyone knew to meet in the VIP tent after the finish.  (Side note:  another perk of being an employee meant that I was able to secure tickets to the VIP tent for my friends and family, so that they were well-fed and sufficiently heated while I traversed the streets of Chicago).  

By the time the alarm went off at 4AM and I started getting ready, I was grateful to be rooming with Laurie, my friend and former training buddy from Charlotte, because we both are pretty calm and collected during race morning prep.  Not too serious, not too chill.  After a bag check, a metal detector scan, and a half mile bus ride, we arrived at the elite tent in the heart of Grant Park.  After what seemed like an agonizingly long time, we finally were ushered to the start line, where we waited another 20 minutes until the gun went off.  With a few final good lucks, fist pumps, high fives and high skips, we finally got into the starting position, poised for a (hopefully) great race.

The gun went off and Laurie, Rachel, Lauren and I all tried to stick together.  The first 5 miles were exceptionally difficult because so many men from Corral A, who are indeed running 2:30 or faster marathon times, kept passing us. I had no concept of what pace I was running, and the Garmin lap pace function wasn't reliable with the tall buildings. So when we came through the first mile in 5:53, I knew not to panic and Laurie and I both said to the group "let's dial it back".  

By the second mile, we came through right at 603, so my nerves calmed a bit....But by mile 3, we were back at 551 and I quickly dismissed thoughts that this would just become a repeat of CIM 2013, where I ran 1:18:xx and 1:22:xx. Instead, I reminded myself of what Terry had told me, which was "if you run a 5:50, you can run a 6:10." So, that's exactly what we did in the next mile. I remember the cumulative time on the race clock was right around 24:00 at this point, so I felt reassured I hadn't completely thrown this race in the crapper just yet. I could hear Rachel telling Lauren that it would be okay if we backed off a bit and I consciously did that.  Laurie was saying the same thing too, but what she really meant was "let's assess how we feel" and I could tell she was going to have a great day. Soon enough, Laurie took off with the Irish girl around 5 miles.  That would be the last time I saw her during the race.  Instinctively, I fell back a couple steps to be closer to Rachel and Lauren. By mile 7, we finally found a group of men trying for our pace and I tried to tuck in behind them, or at least alongside, because the cross/head wind was pretty strong. By mile 10, we had formed a fully functional group of runners, with two latinos fearlessly (and gladly) leading the way.  It's surprising to me that when these early miles of the race were some of the most stressful because I was fretting so much about hitting the right pace.  I probably wasted some precious energy just by being stressed.

The fortunate highlight during the first half of the race included the overall spectacular crowd support, including seeing my friends Mark and Jess, my family and Peter, and my high school coach.  The unfortunate highlight included dropping the first three of my elite fluids, which meant that I didn't get to execute my planned fueling strategy.  I could not believe that I literally dropped every single one through 15K.  I even asked Rachel and Lauren if they had any gels that I could borrow, and they didn't.  I cursed out loud after dropping the third one. I tried not to panic. Soon, I reminded myself that Terry had trained me to be prepared for exactly this type of situation.  After all, I had done numerous long runs without any water or gels.  I changed my strategy in two ways:  (1) I started grabbing my bottles with two hands instead of one to ensure the bottle would not slip precariously from my grip and (2) I drank more gatorade from the race aid stations.  I wanted to make sure that I still got lots of sugar or carbs to prevent any early bonking from occurring. The only negative was that it made my stomach feel kind of weird.  When I did finally have a honey stinger gel at 20K, I downed it so fast that it made my stomach churn. Not much later, that feeling passed. In terms of overall fueling compared to previous marathons, I consumed much fewer calories.

Around 12 miles, I heard and saw my high school coach who literally just drove up five hours and straight back home to see me at two different spots in the marathon. It was awesome! At the halfway point, I saw that we were right at 1:19:0x and I looked at Rachel and Lauren and said, "we're perfect you guys!" And for the first time in the race, Lauren spoke. She turned to me with a huge grin on her face and said "yeah, we are!" I felt so happy! Even though she hadn't said anything before, I always felt her calm, confident presence which made me feel so much more relaxed.

The pack forms
After halfway, I began to notice the wind a lot more. I'm not sure if it actually picked up, or if I turned more towards it, or if I was just starting to get tired. I tried as best I could to tuck in behind Nacho (from Spain) and Hector. They were my very gracious leaders of the pack. I offered my elite fluids to them at one point and they looked at me like I was crazy. :)  I found out later via Nacho's blog that he likes being at the front of the pack and didn't mind that I wasn't making any effort to break the wind for the group (PHEW!).  

At mile 16, Lauren pulled away slightly and I considered going with her, but decided that it was too early and that I should be conservative. I told myself to stay tucked in with my guys until at least 22 and then to make a decision to move past them. For a while, Lauren was just about 15-20 seconds ahead of me, but after mile 21, I could tell she was feeling great and was running 600 or right under. From miles 18-21 I passed at least 3 women, and I tried to tell each of them to tuck in with our pack. 

It also was extremely encouraging to pass through some latin neighborhoods because they went absolutely nuts when they saw Nacho and Hector who both had their country names proudly printed on their jerseys. Some of the fastest splits of my race were posted during these miles 19 and 20, mostly because Nacho and Hector were clearly energized by the support.  By 23, I noticed that the pace had slowed a bit, so I somewhat reluctantly moved to the side and tried to continue running the same pace. I began passing several guys, even though I didn't feel like I was speeding up and instead felt like I was barely hanging on. I was nervous to look at my splits at this point, but I'm really glad that I did because I saw that I was still under 6:10 pace. I was surprised, because I felt pretty shitty at this point.  Even if my legs felt pretty dead at this point, they were still strong enough to carry me to that finish line in a respectable pace! I was overjoyed!  At mile 25, I saw another decent split and told myself that I just had 5 more laps on the track. I saw Tim Meigs and told him good job, but that was all I could muster.  He said "I should have stayed with you" and I couldn't even respond.  Just get to the finish, I thought, and try to power through. I loved seeing the 800m to go sign and willed my legs to go faster. At the one "hill" in the race, I was really starting to feel the effects of running 6:02 pace for 26 miles, so I was grateful for the left turn to the finish line.
As I "sprinted" down the final straightaway, I heard the announcer say that I am a Bank of America employee who made the elite group. That was really special. I ran through the finish line and was immediately greeted across the fence by my family.  I smiled knowingly at them and turned around to check for Tim crossing the line.  After guzzling a water, I finally made my way outside of the finish chute and was pulled into hugs from my family.  They had experienced firsthand the struggles from earlier in the year, and I could tell my mom was a little overcome with "proud mom" emotions.  

After making my way to the elite tent (with my family as an escort) to gather my stuff, the day was made even more special to find out that both Lauren and Laurie had ran PRs.  It was exhilarating to feel the buzz of excitement and pride, the feelings of success contagious among us all. After changing out of my sweat-drenched clothes, Laurie and I got a celebratory mimosa in the VIP tent before taking our mandatory golf cart back to the hotel to check in with the race organizers. In the middle of all the post-race chaos, there was a voice in the back of my head saying:  I knew you would do it.  Afterwards, when I had time to reflect, I realized the true power of running, and its therapeutic effect to facilitate recovery, reflection and transformation.  With this, I was able to finally put into words what this race really meant to me:

This race represented so much more to me than just getting a fast time. It was about proving to myself that I can overcome struggles in my life with resolve, dedication and a happy spirit. Running helped me channel all of these qualities into the culmination of this race and it means so much to me that I was able to use those track workouts in Durham when my marriage fell apart, those runs with Jenna when she was training for Grandma's Marathon and I was recovering from my heart break and finding myself, those runs with all my new guys who weren't freaked out that I stalked them through Strava to find running buddies, to those late nights spent getting to know Peter who loves me....all of this helped me get to Chicago with an intense need to prove to myself that I'm one tough chick who can overcome anything. 

My support crew

Laurie (2:36:00) and Caitlin (2:38:47)

Immediately post race with my family
That's what a proud boyfriend looks like

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November in Review

190 Miles
13 Miles - longest run this month
5 Cities - Point Reyes, Phoenix, Plano, Poipu, Los Angeles

Apparently I don't know how to just stay in one place for more than a couple of days.  Work is really picking up, while my running is not.  That's a good thing.  I am in no rush to get back to running fully yet because I believe in a true recovery.  That being said, I'm taking the extra time and using it to travel to either fun places in California with Peter or to visit my family.  In an effort to spend quality time with Peter doing things that we (I?) love, I've been doing more runs with him since he's got a goal to run a half marathon at sub-1:40.  I also spent a couple of days in Kauai and Maui, soaking up the hiking experience there.  Towards the end of this month, I finally cracked into the double digits for a run, which felt like the perfect amount of time.  It's been almost 7 weeks since the marathon, so as I close the chapter on the month of November, I'm finally ready to start doing a medium-intensity training plan.

Monday, October 31, 2016

October in Review

1 Marathon Race
5 States (California, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia)
160 Miles total (55M, 60M, 0M, 22M, 33M)
8.4M - longest run outside of the marathon this month

The big theme for October is obviously my race at the Chicago Marathon.  After that, I embarked on a journey across the midwest and southeast to see family and co-workers.  After the marathon, I saw my Grandma in Bloomington, IL, then drove with my parents to see my nephew in Cincinnati, OH before flying to Charlotte for a 3-day working session.  After that, I wasn't ready to go home yet and flew to Atlanta for Sarah's wedding, where I reunited with my mom (after not seeing her for only three days).  It a whirlwind of a week, but entirely worth it.  By the time I finally got back to California, I was ready for a couple of weeks just at home, where I could get back to my routine.  I slowly started running again, but mainly focused on getting back to the rock climbing gym regularly. I got in a couple of hikes on the weekend to take advantage of the beautiful weather and the green scenery from all the rain!

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Big D

So I'm divorced. (Well, not legally. North Carolina requires a one year separation before you can officially be divorced.) It's a taboo topic, especially when you start dating before it's "official". Still, I am sharing my story to encourage people to find their voice and talk about divorce, breakups and heartbreak and therein find their power to move forward and love again.

My saga began in August 2015, when a job promotion opened up that would allow me to implement my newly attained MBA skills within the Bank of America Digital team. The catch: It required me to move 3000 miles from Durham --- and from my husband who was only halfway through his Physical Therapy program. Since we had already weathered long separations in our marriage back when he was a baseball player, he encouraged me to take it on and agreed this new role would intellectually stimulate me. We both knew it did not, however, fit the formula for a "normal marriage". I shared my second thoughts before leaving: "I like living here in Durham with you and the routine we've created." We were confident we could stay strong, so I made my decision, took the promotion and moved to California.

Just six months later, on March 21, 2016, I wrote this in my journal:
The first day of spring is all about rebirth and hope. I'm pulling all strings right now to hold on to every piece of hope I've ever needed in my life. Tonight I was lying sprawled out on my bedroom floor - 3,000 miles away from my husband - staring blankly at the ceiling as tears slowly rolled down the side of my cheeks. Every time I blinked, I felt the weight of the tiny droplet leave my eye and begin its path to its final destination - the carpet. I asked myself - is this what real, deep sadness feels like? I don't have the motivation to get out of bed, go running, eat any food or make friends. My comfortable world just unraveled so quickly (14 days to be exact) in front of me and now I'm trying to make sense of it all. I feel so helpless, but one thing I do know is that I am going to fight for my marriage.

Another 14 days later, on April 5th, my marriage ended, despite trips back to Durham and a couple of counseling sessions.

Have you ever experienced that moment where all of the assumptions you had about your life's future just disappear like dust in the wind? There are so many events that could cause this to happen - realizing you're gay, losing a loved one or, in my instance, getting divorced.

My picture perfect future was erased that day when my marriage ended.

Of course, there were moments leading up to the ultimate decision where I realized that perhaps the future I had imagined actually wasn't that perfect. Maybe instead of bringing the best out in each other we brought out the worst. Maybe we didn't have as deep of a relationship that we both desired and needed. Was it just better for each of us to go our own separate ways and find another person who can make our souls sing?

I needed time to come to terms with the "maybes." I needed time to understand that this was the right path for me. Most importantly, I needed time to absorb the reality of the situation, to mourn the loss of so many people who were family to me, and to begin on a path towards forgiveness and peace with myself and with my ex.

That day it ended, I called my parents, bawling that it was really over. They dropped everything and drove through the night to whisk me and my cat back to the haven of my childhood home in Southern Illinois. We grieved together as they had loved him like a son but we worked rapidly to pack what we could into their car and the remaining items into good friends' garages. I left Durham without looking back. I stayed at home for a week, ate very little, didn't do any dishes and pretended that I didn't know my mom was going outside to cry where I couldn't see her. We went to two Dharma meditation classes together and that helped my mom as much as it did me. I helped my dad plant kale in the high tunnel, where he told me "Caitlin, just get your hands dirty. Putting your hands in the soil is therapeutic." As always, he was totally right. I burned old pictures of "us" with my brother. As the huge bonfire transformed smiling images of days gone by to ashes, we both screamed primal cries. Very cathartic, I might add.

Within a week, I was ready to go back to work, to feel productive and to put roots down in California, something I had hesitated to do before. I had this intense need to invest in friends already made in the previous months. And I wanted to get that started already!

Upon landing in SFO, my Uber driver and I talked about his family and his dreams and then he looked at me through his rearview mirror and asked me why I looked so sad. I told him I was going through some heartbreak. He told me: "Caitlin, you are so beautiful. I can tell you have a good soul, you will have a very happy life with a very kind man!" It sounds so “don’t worry be happy” saying this, but in that moment, a switch flipped. He was right. I was going to be just freaking fine! I needed to believe it and I needed to be positive.

In fact, his words jolted me just when I most needed to hear them. I knew how to come to terms with the "maybes:" Begin to accept them as truths. I was on a better path, even if I couldn't see it during the break up. I had a choice. I could choose to feel sorry for myself and constantly question every single action I took leading up to the separation, or I could accept it and begin forming a new life filled with people who support and love me. I chose the latter. A wise friend, Jillian, who also recently was separated, summed it up perfectly:  Love is certainly a confusing thing, especially when we confront head on the things that are missing in a relationship, even when it causes our paths to separate.

After I changed my frame of reference, I realized that it's okay to write a different script.

Suddenly being so far away from Durham was the best thing that ever happened to me and allowed me to move forward, at lightning speed. After all, none of my Cali friends knew him or had been to my wedding. I had a perfectly clean, blank slate. I didn't have to answer awkward questions of "How's he doing?" because he wasn't ever a part of my life here.

What also allowed me to move forward was the fact that I already had an established residence as well as a selfless support network who visited in April and May, some from across the country! My Charlotte friends called me constantly, providing legal, moral and emotional support. I started dancing, hiking, lifting, rock climbing --- I met so many amazing people in the process. And, of course, I ran. I didn't have a plan, I just ran with Jenna or Heather as much as I could and basically every run was a therapy session, even if we didn't talk about my separation directly.

Just having someone I could rely on every single day was powerful. Running transformed my anger into acceptance, my confusion into clarity, my pain into power.

On one particular run, it hit me: I am free. I am not only running free, but I am indeed free. Quite literally, free! With the wind whipping through my hair, the bugs drowning in my sweat, and the geese hissing at me, I had this revelation: I no longer am bound to anyone or anything in my life. I can do whatever I want. The future is entirely my own - I am no longer a shared entity with someone else. And that's a very beautiful thing to welcome.

After that wonderful little run, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon. It was time for me to channel my newfound power into the challenging training regime that would prepare me to successfully cover 26.2 miles. In many ways, my life got back on track through my steadfast friend named running.  (note - I'll cover that race in another blog post). 

And then, just a couple months later, there was this journal entry:

June 16th, 2016: A Whole New World!
Let's change the mood of this book called life. As I flip the page from a chapter full of heartbreak, despair, judgment, pain and shame, I hold my chin up high with confidence in the full rebirth of Caitlin Rose Chrisman. This next chapter has already started full of hope, trust, warmth, laughter and acceptance! What am I really saying? I am actually beginning to live again! I've been resurrected. My past has shaped me, but it doesn't DEFINE me. Since it's top of mind now, I want to recap my past two dates because they were really fun!

I didn't expect to be ready to date, but I was. I expected that some friends or family members would justifiably be skeptical of my judgment to jump into a relationship so soon. I sensed that they were coming from a place of wanting to protect me from potentially getting hurt again. Some even questioned me point blank, and I appreciated their concern. Yet I also knew that the only person who could gauge if I was ready to date was myself. There isn't a script for falling in love that we all can follow. And so with that, I encourage you to trust your instincts and to pursue relationships that make you feel alive. ...

just because, four months later, I'm still dating that same person. When the time is right for you, may you also be open to the same happiness and pure joy an authentic caring relationship can bring.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Week in Review

55 miles
13M with 2 x 4 miles with 1M moderate recovery in 605/603//601/602 (635) 606/601/557/552
12.7M MLR with 5 miles progression at 627, 623, 611, 608, 601

Just one more week until I toe the line at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon!  After taking my easy runs SUPER easy, my legs finally felt decent again in a workout!  I was thrilled to hit the times in the 2 x 4 mile workout and I finally feel recovered from being sick and running pretty hard through it.  I'm ready to get there already!!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Week in Review

74 Miles
15.6M with 5 x Broken 2K repeats (1000m with 200m float, 800m fast, 400m jog rest)
     84/87/43 (57) 81/82 (2:08)
     87/86/43 (57) 81/82 (2:15)
     84/84/42 (59) 80/82 (2:03)
     84/84/42 (65) 81/82 (2:03)
     84/84/42 (53) 81/81

18M with 10 miles at 601/602/558/601/602/601/603/601/604/555

Phew, what a week! I'm definitely ready for a solid taper! And after Saturday's workout, Terry emailed me that I get the best (and worst!) present of all:  a really nice taper.  But first, let's start with Wednesday.  My trusty training partner, Jonah, and I headed out to the track near El Camino to run the broken 2K repeats workout.  Ironically enough, the last time I did this workout was back in late March in Durham when my marriage was crumbling apart in front of my eyes.  For more reasons than one, I wanted to really crush this workout, and I did just that!  Also, it's a really fun way to do a track workout.  Typically I cringe when I see that Terry's created a workout that logistically works better on the track, but I knew that this one would be more interesting than just doing 400m repeats or countless mile repeats.  

On Saturday, Jonah and I headed out for my final big marathon workout.  It was a bright and sunny day, and I gave Jonah strict orders that we should run 605 pace.  Instead, we were running low 600s to high 550s.  By mile 9, I watched as Jonah pulled away from me and I maintained my pace.  I didn't go with him because mainly I felt like crap, but I also didn't consider trying to go with him because I know that I've got a marathon in two weeks and he does not.  It was so cute because at the end of the workout, when Jonah rounded back for me, he immediately asked "Are you okay?!" because it's the first time he's seen me do less than how the workout was written.  I'm used to having workouts where I feel like poo-poo, but he's never really seen that happen yet.  After reading my log about how tired my legs feel, Terry immediately responded with strict instructions to take my slower runs even easier and to reduce my mileage.  I am happy I get to take a step back from running, but I also loathe taper weeks because they get so boring and tedious. I also typically feel super bloated during taper because I'm not running as much and because I'm eating more carbs than normal.

Terry also said that my tempo workout gave a good indicator as to what a good target pace is for Chicago - and I agreed with his assessment.  We both recognized that the best way to PR at Chicago is to run 605 pace through at least halfway or even 18 and then to try to run faster after that.  At least now I have a goal that my own coach also believes I can achieve!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Week in Review

66 Miles
2 Days off
15M with workout of 4 x 2.5M (800m rest) at 556/555/257 (326) 550/555/252 (328) 
555/556/253 (343) 553/557/253
11.5M with 12 x 200m repeats at 40s with 200m jog rest
24M time on feet long run in 2:55 (7:17 pace), with no food before hand, 2 sips of water

Despite having taken off two days due to sickness, I absolutely killed my runs this week.  I have always prided myself on my ability to listen to my body, even if it means taking a day off.  It's really helped me to put aside my ego and just trust that taking time off will be better for me in the long run.  As a result of my strange stomach virus on Sunday, I felt like total crap on Monday and Tuesday. I didn't run or climb and focused on just taking naps and sleeping a lot.  By the time Wednesday rolled around, I knocked out 9 miles easily.  I decided to try out the original workout of 5 x 2.5 miles on Thursday because I'd have the company of Jonah.  For this workout, my notes were recorded as follows:

  1. Super glad I took Monday and Tuesday off from running. 
  2. This went 100x better than I was expecting given how sick and tired and just terrible I felt Sunday through Tuesday.  It was harder trying to slow down to run 555 pace than it was to run 550 pace. It just felt SO effortless!  
  3. Thank god for Jonah. 
  4. After the third one, I stopped for a quick sip of water and the jog rest time doesn't reflect that so it was probably more like a 4:00 rest. 
  5. YAY!   I killed this workout!  This is the first time that I've really walked away knowing that I'm in shape to PR at Chicago.
Saturday and Sunday were also somewhat big days, with a light 200m workout, followed by a long run on the rolling hills of Canada Road with some of my guys.  Most, if not all, of my runs this week were spent with Jonah and I am SO GRATEFUL for his company.  Especially this week, when I was doubting my ability to get runs in after my sickness, his presence was crucial.  For the long run on Sunday, I made the mistake of only drinking water and not eating any food before.  I had only 2 tiny sips of water during the run so that in the final 2 miles of the run, my body was seriously bonking.  My legs started to feel eerily similar to the end of a marathon, so ultimately I was grateful for the practice of running on really tired legs and the chance to use my mind to overcome my protesting body parts.